When Charlotte Palardis was in the throes of postnatal depression, she was struck by a brilliant idea. Moving from Brisbane to Crescent Head, NSW, with her partner and newborn baby Billie, the reality of missing her family while being isolated in a small town quickly began sinking in. It was in the eye of this despair – while breastfeeding, no less – that Charlotte knew she had to do something to reconnect with herself.
Enter: By Billie, the Australian baby, child and women’s clothing and bedding brand that, in just the last few years, has taken our Instagram feeds, e-shopping carts and local brick and mortar boutiques by storm.
With its idiosyncratic matching kid’s 2-piece sets and overalls collections, iconic women’s bike shorts and oversized retro-inspired tees and its commitment to sustainability, I was keen to sit down with By Billie’s founder, Charlotte. We discuss the brand’s genesis, the mum/small biz owner #juggle and the art of carving out time for self-care in amongst it all.
I understand you hadn’t been a designer or even considered yourself a creative before you launched By Billie. I find that incredible since your creative eye shines through your label (I love it!). What was your dream when you were little? / What did you wanna be when you grew up?
Thank you so much! It’s definitely been a journey of trial and error, persistence, drawing on my strengths and tapping into my more creative side (something I haven’t always felt has come naturally).
When I was quite young, I chopped and changed my dream job goals from wanting to be a vet, a famous soccer player (I was obsessed with David Beckham, haha) to a singer. It wasn’t until I got to the end of high school [when] I felt the pressure from teachers and society that I was like, ‘Ahhhh, I really have no idea what career I want to do’, and I would be lying if I said it didn’t stress me out.
One thing that wasn’t as obvious to me [then] as it is now was my knack for business and entrepreneurship. I spent most of my childhood to late teens in my parents’ restaurants and have grown up in the hospitality industry. When I was 15, I developed a business plan for my father to open up another tea house/restaurant which he then used to get a bank loan. I remember I felt so motivated, passionate and excited when writing it that I felt like I was actually quite good at something. It wasn’t until many years and a uni degree later that I realised my dream career had been sitting in front of me the whole time!
How and when did you conceive the idea for By Billie?
It was in the early weeks of Billie’s life, we had just packed up our home/lives and left Brisbane for the much quieter coastal town of Crescent Head on the NSW mid-north coast.
I was in the midst of PND and felt incredibly lonely as I hadn’t yet made friends and missed my mum and sister dearly. One night during a feed I was thinking about what I could do to get a little bit of my identity back, spark some creativity and be my own boss.
Sounds like you were truly struck by ‘divine’ inspiration that in turn helped you back to yourself. What was the very first garment you designed for the label?
It was a little muslin cotton navy romper with buttons down the back. I remember getting the sample and thinking, ‘Omg this business might actually work’. Haha.
Has your initial vision for the label changed over time?
Oh absolutely! I think most brands’ visions would change as time passes. When By Billie launched there were only a handful of other Australian ‘Instagram’ children’s wear labels. I was lucky enough to get in at a time when the market wasn’t as oversaturated as it is now.
Now, because of the saturation in the industry, we can’t get complacent with our designs and marketing strategies. In order to stay relevant and keep our target market engaged, we always need to think of the next fun and exciting thing!
Your family seems to be at the core of your business – you even named it after your daughter, right?
[Yes], my family is everything and every decision I make is to support my daughter Billie and my partner.
Was it hard working on a small business when you were at home with a baby? Or was the fact that the business was inspired by your family the thing that sustained it?
In the first couple of years, I absolutely loved it and found that I had a great, manageable routine with both mum-life and running By Billie. It wasn’t until the business really took off in 2019 that I started feeling a little overwhelmed with the work/life balance.
It’s taken me a little while to find my groove, but I do think it’s come down to having a supportive partner and incredible employees. I can now take a step away when I need to and don’t feel overly constrained.
In such a saturated market, how did you find/reach your target audience/customers?
Firstly we focus on the product we are offering to our customers. We really know our demographic/target market and knowing that helps to always stay on track with our designs. Secondly, we seek influencers that capture our brand and who we want to essentially be the role models for By Billie.
What would be your one piece of advice to other women wanting to start their own business?
- Have a business plan – there are so many templates on google
- Keep your accounts in order (even if you think it’s just a hobby)
- Know your point of difference or identify your target audience
Through the life of your business, when have you known that the time had come to take an important step with your business? Like, hiring someone, scaling, expanding?
I touched on this a little earlier, but I knew it was time to hire when I started feeling more stressed with work/life balance. So, the most important and biggest first step I took was hiring employees.
I also recently just took a massive step and bought a warehouse! I held off for as long as I could but, with an expanding team and growth happening, it was time.
At Kiindred, the wellbeing of little ones – and their futures – are at the centre of what we do. This brings me to our planet and the role the fashion industry plays in carbon emissions. What does sustainability in the fashion industry mean to you? Why is it important? And how does By Billie implement it?
This is an aspect of the business which we are constantly reassessing and aiming to improve on. We understand that producing clothing is impacting our planet which is why we try to make small yet impactful changes. One way in which we do this is by offering pre-orders on a lot of our collections – this way we only produce the quantity which is in demand rather than being left with tonnes of dead stock.
Our packaging and labelling are made from recycled paper and we use 100% biodegradable cornstarch bags for shipping. We aim to only use natural fibres for our designs and have included some organic cotton pieces in our collections. Our goal for the next few years and beyond is to transition to only using 100% organic cotton/hemp to lighten our footprint on the planet.
We will also be adding solar panels to the warehouse within the next few months to lower our electricity consumption.
We’re very committed to brands that are committed to making the (sometimes costly and time-consuming) changes required to operate more sustainably. So, thank you!
I understand you live in Crescent Head – several hours from Sydney. How involved (or removed) are you from the fashion industry in Australia? And, in our e-commerce, tech landscape today, do you think fashion designers still need to be tethered to the industry?
In the tech world we live in today I truly believe designers don’t need to be tethered to a major city like Sydney or Melbourne to thrive in the fashion industry. Being based in a super small town has been the biggest blessing and has allowed me to grow my brand without distraction or getting caught up in the speed and fast-paced nature of the industry.
If there was one thing you could have done differently when launching your business, what would it have been?
I’ve been taking a trip down memory lane to answer this question, and the answer is – I wouldn’t change a thing. Every decision I made back then either brought growth and success, or was a lesson to be learnt.
How do you manage the work/life (or mum/business owner) balance?
I am very lucky to have such a great team at head office that allows me to take a step back when I need to. There isn’t ever a time where I am not thinking about the business and what needs to be paid/planned/launched/posted/emailed (the list goes on, haha). Right now, my priority has shifted a lot more to mum-life as I feel I am in the midst of the precious time with Billie before she begins school next year!
What was that one piece of parenting advice you couldn’t live without?
Understanding that your kids are aware of everything you do and say!
What do you do that is just for you? (not for your business, partner or your daughter)
Lately, I have been waking up just before sunrise, making a coffee and going for a long walk on the beach with my pup, Richie. I take this time to try and rest my mind and feel a lot more grounded and grateful. I also love listening to a Melissa Ambrosini podcast!